Relationships with staff and parents need to be a key focus for this school year, said Steve Cardwell, Vancouver school district superintendent.
Speaking in an interview with the Courier to start off the school year, Cardwell noted the previous year was “challenging” thanks to contentious contract talks and job action by teachers. “And so my message to the field locally, to our school district and beyond, is building on the great relationships that we already enjoy in Vancouver with our partner groups, particularly with our teachers, support staff, ensuring that we have great connections with our parents,” he said.
The board wasn’t able to consult with teachers last year about trying out year-round schooling, or what the board prefers to call a balanced school calendar. “We’re not talking about eliminating summer from everyone who enjoys having a summer off,” Cardwell said. “It’s adjusting the year in a more balanced way.”
He’d like to see a balanced school calendar run as a pilot at up to two schools where there is strong support for it.
Cardwell said the district will hold another student forum on education and continue to explore ways of better engaging students in the classroom. He wasn’t sure whether extracurricular activities that were curtailed by teachers as part of last year’s job action would return to 2010-2011 levels. “They are voluntary endeavours,” Cardwell said. “Teachers, support staff, members of the community offer a variety of extracurricular programs… We would hope that they would continue as best as possible.”
Bargaining for the next collective agreement starts in March.
Cardwell said the district will concentrate on supporting new employees, students that need extra help and the fledgling aboriginal focus kindergarten to Grade 3 mini school at Macdonald elementary. District staff has been meeting with unions representing teachers and support staff to discuss the implementation of relaxations to class size restrictions legislated by Bill 22.
The board will work on recommendations from senior staff on the sectoral review of school facilities and services that was completed last year. For example, the board intends to develop policy on the placement of international students within the context of overall secondary school capacity and waiting lists. The district will continue to grapple with filling underused facilities. “Without selling off property, but making our spaces available for daycares, for library services, community services that might naturally connect with a school,” Cardwell said.
Twenty-two schools are at various stages of development in the district. Construction of the new Kitchener elementary is expected to be completed in October. “Really, our concern is around seismic upgrades,” Cardwell said. “I think over 50 of our schools are in need of an upgrade. The province is committing to replacing or updating schools that are seismically at risk and they’re committing to do that on a fairly tight timeline. Our board position has been that we would anticipate all of our schools being upgraded, that are seismically at risk, by about 2020.”
To generate more revenue to help offset an expected budget shortfall, the district will explore establishing an international studies program at University Hill and Tupper that would be open to secondary students from around the world.
Cardwell said he hadn’t met the new Minister of Education Don McRae, MLA for Comox Valley. “But I understand he was a classroom teacher so he understands the world of education,” he said.